Noisy ICE does not refer to thundering avalanches nor groaning Arctic seas. No, I mean the internal combustion engine, which grows in asymptotic intensity each year. Especially in suburbs with their addiction to power machines, automobiles, and leaf blowers.
Philosophers often treat a person as an isolate _ a mind possibly dealing with a body vaguely aware of its environment. And much thought is given to how that mind should control its body. But what space does that body expect?
Until very recently a person could encounter long stretches of near silence practically everyday and everywhere. Peasants in their fields, even city dwellers, had hours when the world went still except for nature. It was assumed to be normal, like having access to clean air.
But, alas, clean air vanished and required laws addressing pollution. But somehow we never got around to noise pollution _ more insidious, less immediately harmful, easily addressed with earphones and earplugs.
Now, at our house, dawn to dusk, all seasons, there is ice noise, near and far. By driving us into protective acoustic bubbles, it isolates us even more.
It is a possible human right ripe for legal exploration.
Western philosophy often seems to invoke a duality of mind and body. Or a tripartite division into mind, body and soul. Even deeper cross-sections, for example of mind into super-ego, ego, and id.
The most common metaphor is the charioteer, controlling his animal team to deliver himself where he has been directed to go. On examination that falls apart, and not only because we cannot figure out who is telling who to do what or why.
We consist of trillions of cells in an incomprehensible chemical dance. In some ways our consciousness is just along for the ride. Nobody can will themselves to not sleep, or to stop bleeding, nor even most basically to avoid death. And even trivial spasms from that vast assemblage of protoplasm _ like a toothache or a need to pee _ can subvert or end the most concentrated philosophic speculations.
Yin and yang don’t really describe us. Even holistic seems simplistic. We do, after all, often think of stuff at odds with our animal needs and reactions. We strive to be in control but we are also happy to simply drift in hedonistic leisure. In other words, it’s complicated. And chaotic quantum complication should be the starting point of how we begin to figure everything out. A belief in simplicity is illusion.
A roof is more or less the smallest attribute of shelter. A tree or cave keeps off sun and rain. As prosperity or climate needs advance, shelter requires walls, heat, windows, fire, light, electricity, water, and so on, up to and including internet connections today. Still, you need that roof even more than a foundation.
Yet it is rarely noticed that shelter, like food, is not something we require every hour of the day. We are often happy to be out and about, naked to the elements, even in extreme conditions. But usually at least part of the night, everyday, we want someplace snug and secure in which we can rest.
Philosophers won’t care much about this topic. Still, one of the core features of any culture is the type of places it builds. Transient camps, small towns, huge cities and all kinds of other places usually exist anywhere people do. And it is obvious that the buildings people use is a profound expression of their inner culture.
Deconstruction, however, does not work, which is my point here. You may learn a lot about people by examining their entire dwelling. But to look at only the roof, window, or floor piece by piece in isolation _ as many experts tend to do in this scientific age _ will not deepen your understanding of their lives.
Being in awe of existence is natural and appropriate for everyone who can think. Trying to make rules for that miracle seems as futile as predicting the detailed future. Yet many religions have tried to do so, and many followers believe them.
Yet if something is inherently unknowable, trying to understand it is simply impossible. In religion’s own terms, attempting to constrain destiny is blasphemous. But there are always preachers and fanatics who know they can do so and want everyone else to believe they are right.
That is where “agnostic” becomes a special loaded term. If you tell me you can pull a large oak tree out of the ground with your bare hands, or lasso the moon, I am not “agnostic” to say I don’t think you can do it. I would simply be ignorant and foolish if I gave you the benefit of the doubt. If you tell me you can predict the detailed future, without proof, I should not give you a nickel. But let me say (for the sake of harmony) that “I do not share nor reject your inner visions” _ and I am labeled “agnostic.” It implies I would agree if only I would agree.
I prefer to accept intellectual limits. I cannot know my future. I cannot know the outcome of the universe. I cannot know what it all means. And I’m okay with those limits. After all, I’m stuck in a pretty limited body for a pretty limited stretch of objective time.
I don’t reject the religious impulse _I think religions can have moral value. But I will never and can never know it all.
Identity is a crisis of the affluent. A peasant or slave most likely never worries about “who am I really?” But given time to think and a certain number of choices, a person worries about self-importance and being unique.
Mostly, in industrial society, folks do not want to be “just another brick in the wall.” Of course, for ourselves an inner perception of sanity requires me to be the most important element of my universe. But how do I translate that to being important in others perceptions _ at least as I perceive their perceptions?
Multiple answers. Brute force, social influence, wealth, moral probity. But the thing is _ none of them count for much unless others notice them.
Thus we arrive at the crux of the problems with the virtual age. In person, there is proof of identity required _ the wealth or force or beauty must be demonstrated. But in the virtual amorphousness, all that counts is how loud you shout. Not what you say or do or can actually demonstrate.
Virtual mobs shout a lot. Virtual leaders shout loudest of all. And it does not matter what they are shouting about. Nor does it much matter when they inevitably quiet down and are replaced by the next ephemeral foghorn.
Our enlightened society claims that individuals are rarely responsible for the actions of others. I will not go to jail for murder if my father kills someone.
Yet our religiously inspired politicians often do decide to punish children for the sins of their parents. If the mother lives in poverty with no job, she is judged a lazy shiftless bum. Regardless of whether that is true, the actual leverage is applied via her family. If they are starving, ill clothed, and badly sheltered with poor prospects for the future _ why then she will be motivated to work hard and become a productive citizen.
That has never worked, and spelled out it seems not only illogical but also outrageously cruel and evil. But those same politicians whine that it is worse to break up familial bonds of love. The only greater mistake, they claim, would be for the state to give parents something for nothing.
No matter that children in wealthy homes get a free ride. That is the judgment of heaven. Let the poor suffering little brats inspire their progenitors to work hard and become millionaires themselves.
Unfortunately, this thinking becomes increasingly easy in a populous electronic world, where there are no individual girls and boys _ just masses of statistics. The politicians may be good people but their religions leave something to be desired.
It is generally hypothesized that diurnal animals sleep because there is more to lose than gain with activity after dark. Further, that the brain uses this “downtime” to recover and heal. Some of that activity, for whatever reason, involves dreams.
It seems to me that before language, our predecessors’ large brains already dreamed, and I am amazed that the species survived. Even now it can be hard to tell dreams from reality. Without logic and words, how easy it must have been to jump off a cliff to fly away as you dreamed you could last night.
Well, I suppose evolution fixed that. But even now, it can be hard to tell the difference on occasion. History is filled with fanatics and visionaries who could not quite do so. I sometimes need to fight my way back after a particularly vivid episode, a few of which reoccur.
The key is that our brain is always taking disparate chemical and electrical signals and somehow creating senses and consciousness. And it can be tricked, as people with synesthesia prove, where sounds become smells, and touch turns into colors. No wonder it can make a lump in a bed or a mosquito whine or _ as Scrooge noted _ a piece of cheese turn into something of a story.
For all that, I would hate to give up dreams. They lie, but the good ones lie wonderfully and make me remember when I was young and strong. Even the bad ones deliver a thrilling jolt and relief when I wake up. But I am glad I can still realize that they are just dreams.
I had a good laugh the other night at an ad for a new expensive ergonomic chair that would make anyone more productive and _ by implication _ healthy, wealthy, and wise as well. My mirth was from the recollection of long hours when I programmed oblivious to the world. And all those times reading or watching a movie when we ignore all else.
Humans can be incredibly aware. Our senses are fine-tuned to this planet and ecosystem. Whatever was relevant to past survival can be called up at a moment’s notice _ a flash in the woods, a squeak in the night, a bad taste in a mouthful of food.
But all that input must be filtered last we dissolve in sensory overload. We can be aware of much, but usually ignore as much as possible. Inner churnings, external stimuli, even flashes of thought. We pick what we need and all the rest magically vanishes.
There have been times when, deep in a logical problem, I have awoken from a working trance trembling and stiff from the cold of a computer room, legs barely able to stand, eyes unfocused, and even thoughts confused. Would that ergonomic chair have helped? Nah.
In fact, I think such comforts are precisely designed for those who cannot concentrate and who are much too aware of the discomforts they are forced to endure to earn a paycheck. A hedonistically formed chair will hardly help with their tasks.
It is surprisingly easy for us to be distracted into happiness. Give candy to a crying child and all may be well. Even a hug will do the trick.
Being happy is one of the acknowledged goals of life, so much so that “more noble” goals such as honor and duty require giving it up. A person happy all the time is considered lazy with little ambition. Seeking only immediate happiness is thought to be the road to addiction and eventual death from shortcuts used to attain pleasure.
Philosophic treatises have innumerable elephants in this vast room, but surely one of the greatest is the role of being happy. Should it be a goal or a distraction from deeper values which require patience and sacrifice? And under what circumstances and when should it become positive or negative? But how often does one find such questions clearly addressed?
Clearly, in the short run, there are conditions when one should be less happy now in order to be more happy in the future. But given the uncertainty of the future as it extends farther away from the moment, is such a cause and effect link ever really valid? You end up with a miserable slave being happy over the idea that paradise will arrive with death. Even if such happiness is real, is it moral?
Considering nibbles like this is essential to the beginning of wisdom.
“Greatest good for the greatest number” is a great meaningless flim-flam. It is typical of all social thinking which reduces human beings _ who actually exist _ to human beans. Human beans are supposed to be little identical pebbles, easily washed and manipulated by the currents of historical process.
But neither I nor anyone I know is such a “bean.” I have been a unique and sometimes perverse individual from the time I was born. Moreover, each moment of my life I have been a somewhat _ sometimes radically _ different person than at other times. And often, I actually seem to be many conflicting personalities at the same time.
We can deal with what could possibly be meant by “greatest good” in a different essay. But the supposedly easy part about the “greatest number” is equally fallacious. Yes, I suppose I want myself, my tribe, my family to prosper _ at least unless I am mad at them. But even then I am not sure if my strange estranged uncle should count… There is _ even on the most fundamental level _ no adequate way to make piles of “almost identical” human beings.
Nor do most of us truly believe that all or even most humans are equally needy, equally deserving, or equally responsive.